618: Lamaze by Paula Michaels

by Gerard


618.4509: Michaels, Paula A. Lamaze: An International History. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014. 138 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-973864-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 610: Medicine and health
  • 618: Gynecology, obstetrics, pediatrics, and geriatrics
  • 618.4: Childbirth
  • 618.45: Natural childbirth
  • +09: History

In the early twentieth century, women faced one of two certainties when giving birth: either be awake during the labor and experience all the pain that comes with it or be placed under general anesthesia and have the baby delivered with forceps. Neither one of these scenarios were particularly enjoyable. And on top of all that, doctors and fathers were more likely to make the decisions before the mother would. But around the 1940s, the two interests of hypnosis and natural living combined to form a new practice in medicine. Paula Michaels’s Lamaze looks into the interesting amalgamation that became psychoprophylaxis, more commonly known as the Lamaze Method.

Dr. Fernand Lamaze, a French obstetrician visiting the Soviet Union in 1951, witnessed a curious birthing technique. Dr. I.Z. Velvovskii trained his patients to disregard the pain associated with childbirth by focusing energy on breathing and conditioned responses to contractions. It is curious that Lamaze was both a) able to observe medical practices in the Soviet Union during the beginning of the Cold War and b) allowed to report his findings to the world. The techniques which were born (pardon the pun) in the most stoic of nations led to a movement that allowed women to be both part of the process and control (or at least attempt to control) their own bodies at the same time.

Michaels’s historical investigation of the Lamaze method is as interesting as it is straightforward. It’s a small book (under 140 pages), but covers everything you need to know about the subject. I would have never guessed that Lamaze learned the method from Russian doctors. Also, Michaels places the medical practice in a broader social context, one that grew from the women’s liberation movements of the 1920s and 1930 and includes many letters from women of the time. If you’re at all interested in medical history, then this one will be a good one for you.